A tale of two dining experiences in the North Country

I won’t pretend to know how difficult it is to run a successful restaurant.  I am able to view it all from the proverbial cheap seats, or more aptly  the seats at the table with the crisp linen tablecloth on occasion and more often the spinning seat at the well-worn counter.  I also know that in some communities it can be feast or famine, in terms of business. That’s especially true in college towns when big events result in a rush rarely seen other times of the year.

That was the case this past weekend when Wife L and I were in Canton enjoying a visit with Daughter B during Family Weekend at St. Lawrence University. Many of us “helicopter parents” had landed, creating big crowds on campus and at area restaurants.

One place that easily handled the increased traffic was The Ole Smokehouse in nearby Madrid. One place that didn’t handle the big crowds well was the Meadows Restaurant, about 10 minutes from campus. And the one place we really wanted to visit but never had a chance to was Mulligan’s, the restaurant at the Partridge Run Golf Course.  (sorry, Denis, we will get there!)

Baby back ribs dinner.

Baby back ribs dinner.

The big draw at the Ole Smokehouse is, surprise, surprise, its barbecue. I had the pulled pork dinner, and the smoked meat was succulent and juicy. I thought the barbecue sauce had just the right sweet tang, and I added generous dollops from the squeeze bottle available on the table.  My dinner came with two sides, and I chose baked beans and cole slaw. The beans could have been hotter, and not as soupy, but they still worked for me.

Daughter B also opted for the pulled pork dinner, while Wife L had a half rack of baby back ribs. The ribs are prepared with a dry rub and smoked for around 12 hours. She reported they were delicious: meaty and tender.

Cowboys up on high.

Cowboys up on high.

The restaurant is about 25 minutes north of Route 11 in Canton. It’s a fun place, with Western flourishes and a couple of cowboys perched high on the beams. Service and seating were both efficient, though it helped that we had reservations.

On Sunday morning, after Daughter B and I had run a 5K as part of the Remington Arts Festival, we found our way to the Meadows Restaurant. It was very crowded, and we ended up sitting at the counter. Because we were right there, we could see how busy and crazy the waitresses were in trying to keep up, and how as much as they tried they just couldn’t find a rhythm with the kitchen.

An upset customer came up two times to complain about the lack of attention and the lack of food. We could see other salivating patrons eyeing any dish that came past with genuine longing, hoping it was for them.  Too often, it wasn’t. We fared pretty well to start, with my eggs and Wife L’s eggs Benedict coming in good time. But then Daughter B became the forgotten foodie, waiting for her eggs Benedict for about 45 minutes.

The thing is, the food was great. My hash browns were some of the best I’ve had, crisp and seasoned just right, The eggs “benny” was terrific, with a rich Hollandaise sauce that both my companions loved.

Our waitress apologized for the delay, and offered us our meals for free. We left a $20 anyway.  We didn’t want to make a bad day worse.

But there really is something to be said for restaurants that can get it right; that can prepare for the big crowds and still deliver a quality experience.  I’m hoping on a normal weekend service would be much improved; we’re willing to give it another try.

These light fixtures were beautiful accents in the kitchen of the Craftsman Suites building.

These light fixtures were beautiful accents in the kitchen of the Craftsman Suites building.

If you are traveling to the North Country, I highly recommend a layover at White Pillars Lodging, which is about 10 miles from the St. Lawrence campus. There are three guest houses available with different types of lodging. We stayed at one called Craftsman Suites, a turn-of-the-century farmhouse lovingly renovated and filled with interesting Mission-style furnishings.

A cozy living area included tasteful leather chairs and a comfortable couch. The kitchen was ours to use as we wanted, and our room had a terrific master bath with marble floors and a shower that had more nozzles than I thought was possible.  An extra single bed gave Daughter B the chance to escape dorm life for a couple of nights.

All in all, a truly wonderful place to stay.

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